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Manhattan's Best Teachers Shine in Murray Hill

By Jill Colvin | March 5, 2012 6:53am
An analysis of teacher evaluation data shows where many of the best teachers in the city are located.
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DNAinfo/Tracy Prussin

MANHATTAN — Looking for the best teachers in Manhattan? You’ll find them in Murray Hill.

The east side enclave has the highest proportion of the highest-ranked middle school teachers in the borough, a DNAinfo analysis of controversial new education data found.

While the neighborhood has only a handful of schools teaching fourth through eighth grades, 17 percent of teachers administering math and reading tests there were rated exemplary in the 2009-2010 school year — a far higher rate than anywhere else.

The analysis, which is based on teacher evaluation data released by the Department of Education following a years-long legal battle, also reveals surprising differences between Manhattan’s neighborhoods.

An analysis of teacher evaluation data shows where some of the worst teachers in the city are located
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DNAinfo/Tracy Prussin

"I'm not surprised when someone says P.S. 116 does great work," said Murray Hill dad and District 2 Community Education Council member Eric Goldberg, 33, whose eldest daughter attends the East 33rd Street school, which had four of the city's best-rated teachers in 2009-2010.

Others schools in the neighborhood include the highly-regarded Salk School of Science, the School of the Future High School and P.S. 40 Augustus Saint-Gaudens Elementary School on East 20th Street, all of which received As on their latest school progress reports, and J.H.S. 104 Simon Baruch on East 21st Street, which got a B.

Ironically, P.S. 116 earned a C — for poor student progress on state tests — despite its teachers' showings.

In terms of best teachers, the Upper East Side came in second, with nearly 11 percent of teachers in the top ranks. Hell's Kitchen and Chelsea came in a close third, with nine percent of its teachers pulling top grades.

The borough’s worst-ranked teachers, meanwhile, were concentrated in Chinatown, where nearly 13 percent were ranked in the bottom five percent, the data showed. The Lower East Side came in second, with seven percent.

And while Downtown schools are often in demand by parents, DNAinfo found not a single top-rated teacher. On the other hand, there weren't any bottom-rated teachers there, either.

DNAinfo’s analysis focused exclusively on the city’s very best teachers and the very worst teachers — those who scored in the top and bottom five percents. The rankings aim to measure the extent to which teachers are able to improve their students’ scores on state Math and English tests, and are based on a complicated "value added" formula, which takes factors like students' poverty levels and teachers' experience into account.

DNAinfo also included only teachers for whom more than one year’s worth of data was tracked, which boosted the average margin of error to just under ten percent. However, because of the way the DOE compiled its data, teachers who taught both Math and English or multiple grade levels were counted twice.

Tying for the highest concentration of the best teachers in Manhattan were J.H.S. 054 Booker T. Washington on the Upper West Side and East Harlem’s Bilingual Bicultural School, with five of the highest-rated teachers each.

Also scoring well were P.S. 153 Adam Clayton Powell in Harlem, M.S. 319 Maria Teresa in Washington Heights, and New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math High School on the Lower East Side.

Olga Livanis, New Explorations' principal, said the results only confirmed what she already knew about staff at the school, which received an A on its most recent progress report.

"I was not surprised," she said. "I think all my teachers are very, very good."

But Livanis, like others, was reluctant to give the findings too much weight because of well-documented problems, including large margins of error, inconsistencies and other mistakes, several of which she said she saw among her staff.

Parents can search their children's teachers' test score by name or school.
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"I personally saw errors," she said, arguing that the data should never have been released to the public to scrutinize.

The Upper West Side also scored well, with a far higher percentage of the best teachers than the worst. But some schools proved surprising.

P.S. 87 William Sherman, one of the most sought-after public schools on the Upper West Side, which had the longest waiting list in the city in 2010, was home to four of the worst teacher scores in the city — tied for the most of any school.

One fifth grade teacher scored in the bottom first percentile in both Math and English, while two others scored in the bottom third.

M.S. 131 in Chinatown and P.S. 184 Shuang Wen on the Lower East Side each also had four of the worst teachers evaluated.

But Upper West Side mom Rachel Laiserin, co-president of P.S. 87's parents’ association, whose children attend first and fourth grades at the school, said she wasn't concerned by the findings, which she said were "misleading" because of problems with the formula and its focus on state tests.

"I know that test scores are a tiny part of what I care about,” said Laiserin, who also disapproved of the scores' release.

“In terms of actual test scores, we’re among the very highest. To me, that just shows how meaningless a measure this is," she said.

The school received a B on its most recent progress report, with a C for student progress on state tests.

Goldberg was equally negative.

"Given the reliability of the tests and the formulas used to develop it, I don't have much faith in what the test is telling me about the effectiveness of teachers," he said, adding he fears that the release will create "suspicion" in the classroom over teacher quality.

The opinion wasn't reserved for those whose schools fared worse than might have been expected.

Mom Carrie Reynolds, the co-president of the PTA at P.S. 163 on the Upper West Side, which had two of the highest-ranking teachers and none of the lowest, said she had mixed feelings about the value of the data, which she also felt put too much emphasis on state tests.

While she said she liked the idea of more transparency and teachers being held accountable, she worried about the effect.

"I really feel for some of the teachers," she said.

"I feel this is just a brutal thing. Our jobs, we don’t get a grade for it in the paper," she said, adding that she wouldn't mind making the data public once a comprehensive evaluation system is introduced.

Still, she chose to look up her daughter's teacher's grade and was pleased to see she ranked high.

"It just reaffirms everything we knew about her," she said.

And had it been negative? She admitted, "It would have given me pause."